Dale Alfred Erickson

                  Company B Marines Oral History Project

                    Narrator: Dale Erickson (b. 1931)

        Interviewer: Gina Temple-Rhodes Cedar Story Services

         Recorded February 1, 2013 In the Depot in Duluth, MN


GTR: Tell me a little bit about your background; where and when you were born and when you came to Duluth.

DE: I was born in Duluth on January 8th, 1931. I lived here, went to school here. I lived here all of my life.

GTR: Where did you graduate from high school?

DE: I was in my 11th year at Central High School and I went into the Marine Corps. When I returned I went back to school and got my GED at Central High School.

GTR: So you left for Korea while you were still in High School?

DE: Yes. I was in the class of 1951, but by that time I was over in Korea.

GTR: Wow. How did you end up in the Marines?

DE: Well, I joined the "B" Company Marine Corps Reserve in about 1947. We met every two weeks. Then during the summer we went to Camp Pendleton or one of the Marine camps for training for two weeks.

GTR: Do you remember why, or what your thinking was when you joined that unit?

DE: It was an opportunity to travel, and get some military experience. The pay.

GTR: Did you get paid right away?

DE: We got paid for our meetings, right.

GTR: That’s good. What was your experience during WWII? You joined after that…

DE: I was in school during WWII. Everybody followed the war, listened to the news about the War…I had relatives that were in the military. We heard about their experiences.

GTR: Did you have siblings that were… did you have older siblings that were there?

DE: No, I was the youngest. I have two older brothers.

GTR: Were they in the military?

DE: No. My oldest brother was in the Navy for a short time but didn’t participate in the War.

GTR: Okay. So you had other relatives?

DE: I had cousins who had served overseas in the military.

GTR: What did you think about the Marines or about war when you were younger, as a child?

DE: I thought the Marine Corps was an elite unit. There was a lot of prestige involved if you were a Marine.

GTR: So, you looked forward to that when you joined. Did you have any thought that you would be sent to a war?

DE: I had no idea. I never thought I would be engaged in any war.

GTR: Because WWII had just finished, and we thought things were done?

DE: Right. I never had any idea that I would be involved in any fighting of any kind.

GTR: How did that process go? What had you heard about Korea, or how did that…

DE: I didn’t know anything about Korea. I had never even heard of the place. So when we were activated, it was all something that we had no idea what we were getting involved with.

GTR: How did you hear that you needed to go?

DE: Well, we were sent notification through the mail that B Company was activated on a certain date, and get prepared to get your things in order, get your uniforms ready. Because we would be leaving Duluth on August 21, 1950.

GTR: How did you feel about that when you got that letter?

DE: Well, you know, we had mixed emotions about it. When we left I never thought we’d be going overseas to be in combat.

GTR: Right. Were you one of the younger?

DE: I was one of the younger in the group, right.

GTR: So, what was your experience with basic training or the beginning of the process?

DE: Well, part of our group were experienced Marines from the second World War. Some Marines had two summer camps under their belt. Some had three summer camps. Depending on your level of training, that determined if you were going to go right to Korea or have some additional training at Camp Pendleton. I was at Camp Pendleton for two months. I didn’t get to Korea until November of 1950.

GTR: Were you with some of the other people from Duluth?

DE: When we left Duluth here and arrived at Camp Pendleton, we were all broken up and went to separate units. We didn’t stay as a unit. We were all sent to different units.

GTR: So, no overlap? You didn’t accidentally end up with a few?

DE: Oh, yeah, there were a few of us who stayed together for a period of time.

GTR: So you were in Camp Pendleton. How did the training go?

DE: It was tough. They put us through a lot of training. We were up early in the morning, a lot of physical exercise. A lot of night missions to prepare us. Map reading and compass experience. Tactics, Marine tactics. Firing of various weapons. Flamethrowers, machine guns, hand grenades, rifles, pistols. We had training on all of that.

GTR: That’s good. Did you feel prepared, then, when the training was done?

DE: The level of training was intense. All that was covered in a very short period of time.

GTR: So, then it was a ship? How did you actually get to Korea?

DE: Well, we boarded ship in San Diego, on an APA. That’s a type of Navy ship, troop and cargo ship. We took it from San Diego to Kobe, Japan. It took about 14 days to get there.

GTR: What was the mood like on the ship?

DE: Oh, it was a new experience. I’d never been on the ocean before. We had no idea at that time what we were getting into. There were no reports of what was happening during the Korean War while we were aboard ship.

GTR: Were there more experienced men on that ship, too?

DE: Oh, yes. There were WWII Marines that were on the ship with us.

GTR: Did you learn anything from them? Were they trying to help you?

DE: No. While we were aboard ship there was no training going on.

GTR: Okay. So, then you were in Japan. What happened next?

DE: We received our combat gear when we arrived in Japan, and our cold weather equipment and clothing. And briefed where we were going at that time. Then we took a train across Japan to a port on the west side. There, we boarded a Japanese passenger ship and were taken to a port, Pusan. From Pusan, I think we were loaded on trucks and taken to a Marine camp that was called the Pea Patch. It was at Mason, Korea.

GTR: Why did they call it that?

DE: It was a part of an old farm, and the Marines had set up camp there. We lived in tents. We were there for about three weeks. At that time, the 1st Marine Division was fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir. We were waiting for them to join us at Mason. When they arrived, they were very beat up. Their uniforms were really… some were burned clothing, they were really rugged looking. You could tell they had been through a terrible experience. But at that time, those of us who were at camp, we had no idea what they had gone through, until we actually got a chance to talk to them about their experiences.


GTR: Was that the main Chosin Reservoir Battle that they had just came from?

DE: They had battled their way out of the Chosin Reservoir area.

GTR: So, what did they tell you?

DE: They told us about how they had to fight their way out, and how their casualties were very high. We could see some of the equipment that they brought back with them had a lot of bullet holes in it.

GTR: Hmm. There were some men from Duluth in that?

DE: Yes. Quite a few of our friends were in that group.

GTR: So, did you find any of them?

DE: Yes, we saw some of them there and got to visit with them. They told us about their experiences. It was a real awakening to us. We had an idea that the war we were going to get involved in was not going to be an easy thing to do.

GTR: That would be an interesting introduction. Because you hadn’t really been out yet, at all?

DE: No, no combat up to that point.

GTR: And you were what, 17?

DE: 17. I’d just turned 18.

GTR: Wow, hearing these stories. So, what did you have to do next?

DE: Well, after we were at Mason, for about three weeks, we were told that we were going to be involved in an operation against enemy guerillas in, I think, it was Pohang. We were assigned to different companies. I was put into Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. I was in an assault unit. Anti-tank assault unit. It was a team of four, with a 3.5 rocket launcher. We had a gunner, an assistant gunner and two ammo carriers.

GTR: What were you?

DE: I was an ammo carrier at that point.

GTR: How much were you carrying? How did that work?

DE: I carried my rifle, and my equipment, plus four rocket rounds.

GTR: Just draped all over?

DE: Well, there were two in front and two in back, in a canvas ammo carrier.

GTR: So, then you headed out that way.

DE: We were boarded on truck and we went to the base of this high mountain range. The following morning, we got up and we started up the mountain on foot. We walked… it took the entire day to get up on top of the mountain to our objective.

GTR: How did you feel about all this, having just heard all those stories?

DE: Well, I knew what was coming. Yeah. The following day, we were on a patrol. I experience my first combat.

GTR: What battle was that?

DE: We were set up on a mountaintop, a ridge above a little village. A column of Communist guerillas came into our area and we had a brief firefight with them.

GTR: Chinese?

DE: We didn’t take any casualties, and I think we wounded three or four of the guerillas.

GTR: Were they a different unit of other Chinese soldiers?

DE: They were South Korean guerillas, a ragtag outfit. They didn’t have regular uniforms. They were operating all over South Korea at that time.

GTR: So, no Chinese yet?

DE: No Chinese.

GTR: Did that battle have a name, or just…

DE: It was called a guerrilla hunt. It took about three of four weeks up in that area.

GTR: You said when you’d heard stories, that was an awakening. Then doing that, was that your first?

DE: That was my first combat.

GTR: How was that?

DE: It was a shock. It was an eye opener.

GTR: Anything else, however you want to share, about all the next different engagements you were a part of, or how do you want to best share?

DE: We stayed up in the mountains in that area for about two weeks. We eliminated a lot of these guerilla units. Then we returned. I think from that point we went to Operation Killer. That was the next Operation we were in.

GTR: Was this bad weather, yet?

DE: It was very cold out. We were up in the mountains in the winter. We had our heavy clothing, sleeping outside. On a lot of patrols, up mountain passes. A lot of walking.

GTR: Was there snow at that point already, or not yet?

DE: Yes, there was snow. A lot of cold weather and snow and ice. It was hard to… we were eating C rations, and you had to heat your own food. It was trying times.

GTR: Could you heat them , or could you not?

DE: We had little fires. We set up our little fire and had cans of food to eat.

GTR: I had heard from Mr. Morrissey that they often couldn’t have fires, so they would just be cold?

DE: That’s right. I can remember opening my C-rations with a bayonet and chiseling the food out and eating it frozen.

GTR: I can’t imagine. What was happening to fingers and toes?

DE: Well, they gave us little can openers but our fingers were so cold we couldn’t use those. Our hands were frozen.

GTR: Did you end up with frostbite?

DE: Frostbite, yes. It was tough living outside. If it wasn’t for the down-filled sleeping bags, there would be a lot of Marines that wouldn’t have been able to make it.

GTR: Yes. But I’ve heard that there was some challenges with those, people got stuck if you got attacked in the night. Did that ever happen?

DE: Well, we had…. Depending on the conditions, if we knew we were going to get hit at night, there would be 50% watch. Every other person would stay awake. 50% would be awake, 50% would be sleeping, trying to get some sleep. It was cold.

GTR: Did being from Duluth help you deal with the cold?

DE: Well, we did better than the boys from the South as far as dealing with cold.

GTR: But still. Sleeping bags… dealing with mittens and things, you couldn’t really wear mittens or gloves?

DE: Oh, when you had to fire your weapon, some of us had mitts where they had ports to get our fingers out so we could fire and operate the guns, the rifles.

GTR: Did you yourself have any lasting effects from frostbite?

DE: I have cold weather injuries on my feet and hands, yes.

GTR: Were you injured in any other way?

DE: I was hit with shrapnel on June 10th, 1951. We were out on a patrol and we got hit with artillery. Rounds came up.

GTR: Were you able to be treated, or?

DE: I was sent back to a medical station and treated. I believe I was at this field hospital for three weeks and then I was returned to duty.

GTR: And that was back a ways?

DE: I imagine it was five, ten miles back of the main line.

GTR: Okay. It was impressive to me the fact that there was nowhere to go, nowhere to get warm.

DE: Well, the units were rotated online. The longest time we spent online was 64 days online without being sent back into reserve. When we went back into reserve, we were able to get some clean clothing, and get some hot meals, and a rest. But that didn’t… we weren’t in the Reserve very long and then we’d be given other assignments.

GTR: Just a few days?

DE: We were in Reserve maybe a week at a time.

GTR: 64 days is a long time to be online!

DE: You really get dirty, and your clothes are really dirty.

GTR: I’ve heard stories of the frozen socks, trying to rotate them?

DE: Right. Some of us had extra socks that we had. But it was so cold you wouldn’t…

GTR: That’s hard. So what were sort of your main, serious battles or events that you remember?

DE: Well, I believe it was June of 1951, my squad was told to report to… Sergeant told us to get ready, we were going to meet two tanks and go on a patrol. We met these two tanks, we climbed aboard the tanks, and we drove down this long valley, along side of a river. We got to a certain point, the tanks pulled off the road. We took up positions away from the tanks. Then the tanks were firing, I think they were firing for effect to see if they could get a reaction. Then suddenly we were hit with artillery. All the members of my squad were wounded. I was the only Marine to make it back to my outfit that night.

GTR: How did you survive, you weren’t hit as much?

DE: I didn’t get hit then.

GTR: Any other particular?

DE: There were a lot of battles that I experienced. A lot of incoming. A lot of artillery barrages. A lot of patrols that we were involved with. A lot of skirmishes, firefights. I was there a whole year.

GTR: Back out for 30 or 60 days, then reserve and back out?

DE: Back on duty again.

GTR: Was that an unusual amount of time?

DE: That’s a long time to be up in combat. You’re up in the mountains, eating C –rations.

GTR: Were others out that long, too?

DE: In the Marine Corps that was common?

GTR: Anything else that you’d like to share with the actual Korea experience before we get into returning home or other life experiences?

DE: No, I was very happy to get my year in and be able to come home.

GTR: That’s good. So, what was it like? How did you disengage and get back to Duluth? How did that go?

DE: Well, I was called into the Sergeant’s office one day and he said, “You’re going to be sent back to the States, and get ready to get your gear together and leave the Company and go on board ship, on your way home.” At that time, the place we were at, we were getting hit with artillery. But the First Sergeant told me to go ahead if I wanted to leave the area and go visit friends for the last 3 or 4 days, that would be alright with him. So, I did. I left the area where they were taking hits with artillery and went back and visited some friends in the 11th Marines, that’s artillery units. Stayed there for a few days, then came back to my company and boarded a truck and headed out to the coast. We took a ship back to Japan. Then we were processed in Japan and put aboard a ship and came back to San Diego. My enlistment was up, so I was put into a Casual Company and processed for discharge.

GTR: What were you thinking during all of that?

DE: I was very happy to get home and forget about it.

GTR: So, how did it go when you first got back to Duluth?

DE: Well, it didn’t go well. There were lasting effects from the war. You should feel safe, but you didn’t feel safe at night. There was something wrong. You just couldn’t get all this stuff. You were in it so deep, and then all of a sudden it was gone. But you still had strong memories of that experience. It stayed with you. You’d wake up at night, still thinking about your combat experiences.

GTR: Was there any debriefing process at that time?

DE: There were no counseling (services) for us Marines who had severe combat.

GTR: So how do you think you got through that?

DE: Well, it wasn’t easy. I’d wake up at night. I had recurring dreams about the war. It wasn’t easy to go through.

GTR: And you were so young!

DE: I was, yes.

GTR: Did you have any siblings or anyone that you could talk to at all?

DE: People didn’t want to hear what I had to say. We soon found out it was better not to talk about it. If you talked to somebody about your experience, keep it light and just talk about the dates and the times you were there. It’s better not to talk about any severe combat with people who weren’t there. We could talk to other Marines about it, but you wouldn’t, you couldn’t…. We found that it wasn’t good to try to explain some of the details to people that weren’t there.

GTR: Did you feel that the community did understand that you’d been in combat, or did they not know much about Korea?

DE: They didn’t know much about it. There wasn’t… they didn’t have any idea what we experienced.

GTR: Was there some information about the conflict in the news?

DE: There was some. But some of my friends thought I was away at summer camp!

GTR: When did you start meeting with the other members of (Company B)?

DE: We started an American Legion post with all Marines. We got together once a month at our American Legion club, started having reunions.

GTR: What role do you think that played in your life?

DE: Well, that was good to be able to talk to other Marines about what units they were in, what they did during the Korean War.

GTR: So, people would get into more detail at those meetings?

DE: Yes, they would.

GTR: What role did your service in Korea play in the rest of your professional life, or your personal life later?

DE: Well, after I got home I enrolled in the University of Minnesota. I went to UMD for two years and after that I had different, various jobs. I worked for the railroad for a time. Then I left the railroad and took a test for a police officer in Duluth, and became a police officer in Duluth. I was a policeman in Duluth for 34 years! I spent most of my careers in the Detective Bureau as a criminal investigator, investigating white collar crimes. Checks, forgeries and embezzlement cases.

GTR: Do you think your experiences in Korea or combat had any bearing on those?

DE: My experiences helped me, sure. Sure they did.

GTR: How about the Marines in general? Somebody said Marines seems to age well. Is there something about being a Marine that…?

DE: Well, there is a lot of pride in being a Marine. We have special esprit de corps. We have great respect for other Marines. It’s just a unit that has a lot of pride.

GTR: It seems like it. It’s one of the longest running reunions, the meetings that you have.

DE: Right. We still meet once a month.

GTR: It’s unusual, in a way?

DE: It is.

GTR: Why do you think you’re meeting, still today?

DE: Well, we’re a close-knit unit, close to one another. We feel a bond. The bond is strengthened by all the hardships that we went through.

GTR: Even today. It’s been a long time!

DE: It’s been a long time, yes. But we’re a band of brothers. We really look out for one another.

GTR: That’s great. Some of your experiences were quite different, or people were in different battles, but there’s still that same cohesive (spirit)?

DE: Oh, yes.

GTR: Do people still talk about the actual experience in Korea, or do you talk about different things?

DE: We do! We talk about some of the firefights that we were in, what happened. We do talk about it.

GTR: What advice would you have for veterans returning today?

DE: Well, I would suggest that they go into counseling. If there were veterans that were in combat, get some counseling. Talk to some veteran’s groups. There are professionals out there who know how to treat people that are suffering from their PTSD. There’s help out there for those people.

GTR: Was PTSD used as a word back then?

DE: They didn’t identify it. They didn’t have it diagnosed at that time. They called it shell shock, or they had other terms for it. Effects of combat on a soldier. Now, they’ve been able to diagnose it, certain conditions that exist. Therapies that help.

GTR: What do you hope would be different for returning veterans, as far as their reception or people’s acknowledgement?

DE: Well, make sure that they are honored and received back into the community as the heroes that they are.

GTR: Did you feel as a Korean Veteran sort of forgotten? Do you wish there would have been more acknowledgement?

DE: Oh, there weren’t any acknowledgements. We just returned home without any fanfare and got on with our lives as best we could.

GTR: Would fanfare have helped?

DE: I don’t know if it would have.

GTR: I don’t know why the Historical Society wanted to fund this program now, but the idea of the long-term meetings that you have, and that returning process. If there’s anything more that we can learn from that, or something you could share, I think that’s something that interested them.

DE: Well, the fact that we had these reunions and were able to get together and talk about our experiences, it was therapy in a way. A lot of the returning soldiers never had that closeness. They were out there without anyone to talk about their experiences with. Getting it out and storytelling is therapeutic.

GTR: Now, when they come back, there’s not a cohesive group, necessarily, either.

DE: Right. Our unit was special. We started having meetings in 1970 I believe. We’ve had one every year since then!

GTR: Is that a Duluth reunion? Or?

DE: Well, Marines that belonged to B Company come from all over the United States to attend that.

GTR: Where is that usually held?

DE: It’s held… well, the last few years we’ve held it at Blackwoods at Proctor.

GTR: Your monthly luncheon, that’s mostly local people.

DE: Right. Once a month we meet, and we have a good turn-out. Usually 20 or 30 of us.

GTR: That’s great!

DE: I’d like to read this into the record if I could. I wrote my memoirs through the Korean War Educator. The name of my little book is called “Killer Eyes”. “My strongest memories of the Korea War are the conditions of war, the hardships, the bravery, the battles, the hunger, the cold, the sadness. Learning what the human body can take, and how to adjust to the most trying conditions and survive.”

GTR: Thank you! I look forward to reading that, too. Do you think you were tougher, afterwards?

DE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I learned how to survive under the worst conditions.

GTR: It sounds like quite the challenges. Well, thank you very much. Is there anything else?

DE: I can’t think of anything!

GTR: Well, if you think of anything later, I’d be happy to talk, or we’re going to do a group interview and things might come out there, too.

DE: Alright, you’re welcome!


Second 10:39 File of Dale Reading Sections from his Memoir Killer Eyes, available at http://www.koreanwar-educator.org

“PTSD Awareness” It relates how he learned more about PTSD after his retirement while acting as a bailiff in a court case where the defendant was a Vietnam Veteran. The lawyers listed symptoms of PTSD such as mood swings, alcohol abuse, marital problems, elevated startle response, etc. He realized that during his lifetime, he had experienced all of those things. He looked into it more and went down to the Veteran’s Service Office and was advised to file a claim. He entered counseling. He had worked to bury memories about Korea. Counseling helped him unlock his personal war. He started receiving compensation for PTSD disability. His final award is 20% for frostbite in each foot, 40% for back injuries, and 100% PTSD, bringing the total to 180%. The final paragraph is:

DE: “With the help of several great counselors and VA psychiatrists, I have been able to understand the conditions that I had that were working against me and keeping me from developing. I am being led out of the depression and sadness. I am now on my way out. I can talk about my experiences. The guilt is going away.”

GTR: Thank you.

DE: I might want to read one more (section) into this. It’s called the Zero Zone. “In 2003 I met another Korean War combat Marine. I could see how troubled he was. When you have PTSD, it seems like you can see it in other people.” They wrote to each other about wanting to tell the story of their combat. He found that no one wanted to hear what he wanted to say. “I guess I can talk about death and killing with too much familiarity and it repulses them. They do not want to look into my eyes. I’m sure they see death in my eyes. They can see it. It is the death and killing in my eyes that they can see. I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my lifestyle. I am for sure not going to talk around and show people my eyes and this death mask, my killer eyes. To hell with them. I want to be alone, anyway. My nights are filled with fear, the faces are death are present yet, my heart pounds every night like it’s going to explode. Why is this with me? I am home now, I should feel safe. But this overwhelming sadness persists. I lay awake at night, trying to figure out what triggers this, the one bad thing that is causing me to be this way. It’s all a big blur. But I know how to get it suppressed, because I know if you drink the right amount of whiskey, you can reach the zero zone. The incoming stops. I have found I can live this way. I have found the prescription for inner peace. I go to the zero zone with my friend Jim Beam. I live that way for a long time. I was a loner. I had to be that way. I know it hurt me over the years, but it worked for me.”

DE: {with emotion} I can’t read no more.

GTR: Thank you, very much.

Korean War Educator: Memoirs - Dale Erickson (koreanwar-educator.org)


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